Legal organizations join the fight for sex workers’ right to challenge prostitution laws

June 1, 2009 at 3:36 pm (Uncategorized)

Vancouver, May 28, 2009 – Three prominent legal organizations have been allowed to intervene in the B.C. Court of Appeal in support of the right of sex workers to challenge the criminal laws relating to adult prostitution.

Today, Madam Justice Kirkpatrick held that the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, the Trial Lawyers Association of B.C. and West Coast LEAF will be permitted to make arguments in the appeal of DESWUAV and Kiselbach v. AG Canada which is set to be heard on November 23 and 24, 2009.

“These groups have come forward because of the important social justice issues that are before the Court,” says Katrina Pacey, Pivot lawyer and counsel for the plaintiffs/appellants. “In this appeal, my clients are fighting for access to justice for all marginalized persons and for the recognition that sex workers face incredible barriers in their efforts to protect their human rights.”

The constitutional challenge to the criminal prostitution laws was initiated in 2007 by the Downtown Eastside Sex Workers United Against Violence Society, a non-profit society composed of street-based sex workers and Sheryl Kiselbach, a former sex worker with 30 years of experience in the sex industry.

In December 2008, the B.C. Supreme Court ruled that the plaintiffs did not have the legal right to initiate such a challenge because it must be brought by an individual, active sex worker. Justice Ehrcke rejected the plaintiffs’ argument that the highly public nature of the court process effectively prohibits active sex workers from launching a challenge due to fears of arrest and retaliation, as well as social censure and discrimination.

“As a former sex worker with 30 years of experience in the industry, I was disappointed and disillusioned by the court’s decision to deny my right to challenge the laws. The decision says to me that my experiences do not matter,” says Sheryl Kiselbach, plaintiff. “This decision is unacceptable and I am really encouraged by the fact that these three organizations have come forward in support of our appeal.”

In their submissions to the Court, all three organizations highlighted the fact that the Supreme Court ruling was overly strict in its application of the law regarding who has the right to constitutionally challenge a law. If the plaintiffs are unsuccessful in the appeal, the ruling could make it impossible for some marginalized individuals and groups to initiate constitutional challenges in the future.

The appeal was filed on January 12, 2009 and will be heard on November 23 and 24, 2009. Details of the case, appeal and intervention application materials can be found at http://www.pivotlegal.org/Issues/sextrade.htm

Pivot’s mandate is to take a strategic approach to social change, using the law to address the root causes that undermine the quality of life of those most on the margins. We believe that everyone, regardless of income, benefits from a healthy and inclusive community where values such as opportunity, respect and equality are strongly rooted in the law.

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